Pride vs. Sky Blue: The Good, The Bad, and The Historic

The entire season for the Orlando Pride has felt a bit like a promise unrealized, but Saturday night the team put on a clinic against Sky Blue FC at Orlando City Stadium. The Pride won 5 - 0 in a night that was filled with historic moments, both for the team and for individual players. 

One moment of history was an ending. Earlier in the week, Maddy Evans had announced that she would be retiring after this match to pursue a career in the classroom back home in Pennsylvania. Evans was a player that Tom Sermanni targeted when assembling the initial roster for the Orlando Pride, both for her work ethic and her ability to move the ball in the midfield. She's been a selfless player during her time with the Boston Breakers and with the Orlando Pride, and she's the kind of player that can be relied upon to give a team solid minutes and steady play. 

Another moment of history was a return. After suffering a quad injury on May 21 that knocked her out of that match and has kept her sidelined ever since, Ashlyn Harris returned to the pitch as goalkeeper for the Pride. It was a triumphant return and marked the first time in the season that the team has recorded back-to-back clean sheets, as the defense kept Sky Blue scoreless on the night. 

And for the team, a great historic moment was climbing back into a playoff position. After the win, the Pride sit in 4th place on 26 points, two ahead of the Seattle Reign. The Reign will play late on Sunday night, hosting the North Carolina Courage. If the Courage can win the match it will keep the Pride in 4th place for the week. But if the Reign win, the Pride will need to claw their way back above the line into a playoff position in the next match. 

With the assembled talent Tom Sermanni has, it seems that this is the way fans should expect to see the Pride play every single match. Now if we can only get the ladies to educate the lads on the MLS side what real soccer looks like... 

The Good

  • Total Statistical Domination. The scoreboard would suggest that the Pride were firmly in control of the match. And looking over the stat sheet reinforces that suggestion. The home dominated the match in many of the headline stats and a few of the deeper stats. Several which jump off the page to illustrate the domination are Shots on Target (Pride led 12 to 3), Total Passes (Pride led 614 to 356), Possession (63.4% to 36.6%), and Duels Won (48 to 33). Longtime readers know I don't always put much stock into possession stats, but when you use a big possession advantage to outscore the opponent by 5, then it bears giving the team some credit for keeping possession of the ball so successfully.

CategoryPrideSky Blue
Shots1811
Shots on Goal123
Crosses1813
Total Passes614356
Pass Accuracy85.7%74.4%
Possession63.4%36.6%
Duels Won4833

  • Alex Morgan. Morgan had her first two-goal match of the season for the Pride, scoring the opening goal on the night and scoring the first goal of the second half. She also had the assist on the last goal of the night when Marta put the icing on the celebratory cake in the 58th minute.
  • Marta. Marta also had a two-goal match, and she registered the assist on Alex Morgan's goal. This marks the second time in as many matches that the two superstar players have combined in both scoring and assisting each other's goals.
  • Jasmyne Spencer. Spencer had the assist on Morgan's goal in the 47th minute of the match. Her speed was also on display all evening as she stretched and strained the New Jersey defense, keeping the visitors in a virtual state of panic all night wondering which of the purple-clad players was going to present the next imminent scoring threat.
  • Dani Weatherholt. By statistical standards, Weatherholt has had a rather quiet season to date. She impressed her teammates at the beginning of training camp by having the highest score on the endurance contest, and at a preseason event for the fans to meet the players, she told me that she had trained all offseason with the mens soccer team from her hometown university. This season, Weatherholt has been extremely active in a holding midfield role, most often by disrupting the opponent when they take possession and try to start attacks, and often harrying and frustrating them. It's the kind of unsung work that is essential but often doesn't get a lot of recognition outside the locker room or beyond the coaching staff because most of us fans are too focused on watching amazing goals or fantastic saves. But last night, all that hard work came to fruition in the 43rd minute as Dani Weatherholt scored her first career NWSL goal, with an assist from Camila. The reaction of her teammates was incredible, as they nearly smothered poor Weatherholt in an explosion of shared joy at witnessing a player's debut goal.
  • Ashlyn Harris. Ashlyn had a clean sheet and made three saves on Saturday night. While the Pride dominated the match in terms of putting shots on frame, Harris did get tested once in the second half with a flurry of activity at the mouth of the goal, as several players from both teams were desperately trying to get the ball into or keep it out of the Pride goal. Harris made a great save to start the play, and her teammates were attentive and in position to help clear the ball when the secondary and tertiary attempts to score came on rebounds. A clean sheet is always a team effort--it starts with the defense limiting the number of shots that are permitted to the opposition against the keeper, and continues with the keeper having teammates in position when it's necessary to punch away or swat away a shot that cannot be caught and smothered cleanly.

The Bad

  • Mother Nature. I'm actually only half-annoyed with the long weather delay before the match. I think the weather and the threat of continued thunderstorms late into the night hurt the attendance, which was only 5,243 as reported. But the flip side of the delay is that it meant I was able to watch most of the Orlando City MLS match on my iPhone from the stands, and it also meant that the air was cool enough that the players were not in danger from the heat. Of course the rain meant it was extremely humid, so the players were drenched as much in perspiration as precipitation by the time the first few minutes of the match elapsed.

The Historic

  • Dani Weatherholt. Congratulations again to Dani on her first career goal. I honestly expected to see her be able to register an assist before a goal, but the opportunity was perfect and she struck a strong, true, well-paced strike that found the back of the net and put the home side up 2 - 0 before halftime.
  • Maddy Evans. What a great presence and a wonderfully reliable player Evans has been for the team. I think it's a measure of the love her teammates have for her that made them hand Evans the ball when the team won a penalty kick late in the match after Jasmyne Spencer was mugged inside the Sky Blue penalty area. It's clear that PKs are not something Evans has spent much time practicing, as she telegraphed her shot low and to the goalkeeper's left, allowing Kailen Sheridan to deflect it out and prevent a sixth goal from going up on the scoreboard for the night. But in the end I think it's more important that her teammates wanted her to get the opportunity than it was whether or not she converted the kick.
  • Largest Margin of Victory. The 5 - 0 win marks both the most goals scored and the biggest margin of victory by the Pride in club history. I said last week that with the talent on this team, the NWSL table should look like La Liga, with the Pride beating up on every other club week in and week out, dominating both the total points and total goals scored, while everyone else fights to reach second place. If the team can keep this going, then next season we may well see that kind of promise come to fruition and watch the Pride take their rightful place as the single most dominant women's professional club in the world.
  • Back in a Playoff Spot. The three points moved the Orlando Pride up into 4th place for the moment, pending the results of the Reign vs. Courage match on Sunday evening. 

What were your thoughts on last night's match? Was there a player that didn't make the score sheet that had a particular impact on the match, in your opinion? Do you believe that with the two back-to-back clean sheets the Orlando Pride has turned a corner?